The Building Societies Association asked me to look at whether the mutual sector will help to deliver the education curriculum mooted by the government earlier this year – here’s my verdict
It was an announcement made four months ago, the culmination of fierce lobbying by charities, MPs and respected bodies in the financial sector. But the news that money lessons will soon have to be taught in all schools is still reverberating around the industry.
Up to now, financial education has been an ad-hoc affair – in England, at least. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have technically been ahead of the game for many years.
But the Department of Education has finally caught up with its neighbours, and perhaps not a moment too soon. In this economic maelstrom, few doubt that the next generation need all the help they can get. As well as depressed interest rates and stagnant wages, young people face their own unique set of financial obstacles. Numerous studies show that bumped-up tuition fees will leave graduates with a debt pile worth over £50,000. A first-time buyer could be waiting until their late 30s to get on the property ladder – if the bank of Mum and Dad can’t help.
It’s little wonder that three quarters of the population are in favour of financial education, according to a poll carried out by the Nationwide Building Society. Half the population think that lessons on money management would have had “a positive impact” on their situation if they had been around before now.
But there are so many questions surrounding this landmark decision; what exactly will be on the syllabus, and who is best placed to teach it?
That uncertainty could be down to the way this curriculum has been drawn up. The Department for Education has stated that school pupils must be “equipped with the financial skills to enable them to manage their money on a day-to-day basis as well as to plan for future financial needs”. That means learning about budgeting, as well as the basic financial services that young people are likely to encounter at some point. Pupils will also have to get to grips with wages, taxes, credit and debt, as well as the more ‘sophisticated’ financial products that their parents may still be struggling to grasp.
But that is as far as it goes in suggesting how money is taught. In this way, the new Draft Curriculum follows arrangements already seen in Wales and Scotland, where teachers can decide what resources they use and how to cover the basics.
But could building societies, now attracting more support following the traumatic fallout of the banking crash, prove helpful? Many mutuals are already working with young people to improve their financial literacy. The Nationwide Education website, which has plenty of interactive resources, has received over 35 million hits since its inception in 2008. But there are plenty of smaller, local building societies, demonstrating various strategies to engage children with this thorny topic.
For instance, Cambridge Building Society has hosted “Dragon Dens” style events to ensure local school children understand the world of work, similar to the Progressive Building Society’s Young Enterprise Programme. Experts at Ipswich Building Society have gone into local schools as part of a Money Day programme, offering games and Debt Cred sessions. The Beverley and Newbury Building Societies have even set up ‘junior banks’ to get children learning about key financial products through practice.
So however teachers decide to broach this tricky subject when it becomes compulsory next year, they can, at least, be assured they are far from their own.